An educator and a gentleman...now, a 'Knighted Royal Defuzilier'
By Louis Hoglund
The affectionate bond between the Dent American Legion Post and the Dent school culminated in a most unusual honor to Dent educator Rex Kingsbury.
Officially, Kingsbury is now a "knighted" member of the "Exalted Order of the Royal Defuziliers." The presentation was made by Legion Post 148 officials at the Dent elementary school's Memorial Day program May 25.
Puzzling and pretentious as the title may sound, it is a legitimate military fraternal organization--with an extremely small, scattered, exclusive--and proud--membership.
For veteran teacher Kingsbury and the veterans of the Dent Legion, the honorary membership is a story that starts two years ago--a story of both joy and tragedy.
The Order of Defuziliers is comprised of officers and enlisted veterans who specialize in disposal of bombs and explosives. Kingsbury may well be the only civilian in the state of Minnesota, possibly beyond--who is "granted clear and unencumbered rights to participate in all activities common to Defuziliers...fellowship and good cheer customary of all Defuziliers is extended to him now and forever."
It was a U.S. Army "defuzilier" named Johnny Mason that brought the grim reality of war directly into the Dent classroom.
Through a collaboration between the Dent Legion and the school, a Christmas card program was created two years ago. Dent youngsters created handmade cards, which the Legion then sent overseas to Iraq.
A "little group of heroes" is how Legion officials described the Dent students who made the cards. Over the past two holiday seasons, Dent students have sent nearly 400 greeting cards to Iraq.
"(The troops) send sincere thanks and appreciation, along with the many replies and good gestures from other troops we hear from," said Dent Legionaire, adding that the Dent school project was a great way of supporting the troops. "They not only know we care, but having been a soldier myself, getting mail is always the high point of your day."
It was a bomb detonation squad--a "defuzilier" unit, applying the European military term with origins dating back to at least three centuries ago--that received the first batch of cards from Dent.
Among the fellows serving in the bomb disposal outfit was Johnny Mason. Johnny didn't come marching home from duty in the Middle East. He was killed during an explosive disposal operation, and reportedly, saved the lives of two other soldiers in the process of losing his own.
That one of Dent's "pen pals" died in military service was perhaps many of these students' first painful experience with mortality.
Commanding that unit was an officer with Otter Tail County connections: Major Gregory J. Hirschey. His parents, John and Andy Hirschey, are Perham residents.
Because of the uncommonly warm relationship between the Dent school, Kingsbury and the Dent Legion, Post officers arranged for the special honorary appointment to the "Royal Defuziliers."
"Mr. Kingsbury has been a constant supporter...he has provided excellent citizenship training for the students in his classroom and the Dent school," stated Legionaire Arnie Rethemeier at the school's Memorial Day program. Kingsbury has distinguished himself with several annual activities at the school, said Rethemeier, including the Veterans and Memorial Day programs, the flag disposal ceremonies and, of course, the Christmas card program.
At these special programs, Kingsbury often presents his own message to the students. For Memorial Day 2007, Kingsbury illustrated America's constitutional "freedom of choice" by displaying two different lunch boxes--asking students what their choice would be if they were choosing a lunch box.
"In some countries, you wouldn't have that choice--you would be told which lunchbox you had to have," said Kingsbury, pointing to the legion members at the program, "because of the sacrifice of our friends here, we have those freedoms."
On hand for the Defuzilier presentation was Kingsbury's wife Sandy, daughter Jennifer, and even his parents, Bud and Lois Kingsbury.
The Dent Legion also presented each student with a certificate of appreciation for their efforts with the Christmas card campaign.
Interestingly, there was a genuine "defuzilier" on hand for the occasion. Dent Legion member Erv Post was himself attached to a U.S. Navy "EOD" unit (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) in the 1950's.
"It wasn't nearly as sophisticated back then as it is now," said Post. Mounted on the wall during Post's service with the bomb disposal outfit was a sign. The message contained a bit of sardonic humor typical in the military; yet, was a grim reminder of the defuzilier's dangerous duty:
"Your first mistake ... is your last mistake."